Last week in the space, we published a "Trophy Thursday" story about the NHL's General Manager of the Year Award, which is entering its second decade of honoring team GMs who "excel" at the role of building then sustaining a formidable hockey team and organization. The job is challenging in scope and demanding in its attention to details.
In 1998, Gregory was named chairman of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee, a position he held until passing away. While Gregory was on hiatus from the committee in 2007, he was elected to the Hall of Fame himself in the "builder" category. Gregory appropriately joined a big-name, star-studded induction class including NHL Seattle GM Ron Francis, Mark Messier, Al MacInnis and Scott Stevens.
On Tuesday this week, during a one-day NHL GM meeting in Toronto, the league'a 31 team general managers voted unanimously to name the GM Award in honor of the late Jim Gregory. As the one NHL trophy as yet not named after a prominent NHL figure, the choice of Gregory is perfect.
Attending to Jim Gregory's life details is like mining a wealth of riches of the most human kind. You can start with his serving as general manager of the storied Toronto Maple Leafs franchise during the 1970s, when the Leafs qualified for the playoffs eight of 10 seasons. Maybe add in Gregory's establishment of a dedicated scouting system for Toronto, hiring five full-time scouts when that was unusual. Plus, Gregory was one of the first managers to scout European players, signing long-time Maple Leafs star defenseman Borje Salming (more about Gregory's hockey achievements in a few paragraphs).f
The most telling details are beyond the rink. At Gregory's funeral Nov. 2 in Toronto, his son David touched on his father's lifelong zest for helping others. A couple of examples: Gregory would walk through the NHL Draft floor each year after the team officials had left their tables; his mission was to collect notepads and pens to donate to schools in need. On any given game night, Gregory would procure uneaten food from the arena (concessions, media rooms, players and family rooms, etc.), then bring it outside to homeless folks he spotted on his way in.
One detail not to be overlooked: Five NHL GMs attended the funeral despite a full Saturday of games in other cities and country: Steve Yzerman (Detroit), David Poile (Nashville), Lou Lamoriello (New York Islanders), Ken Holland (Edmonton) and Jarmo Kekalainen (Columbus). NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was on hand, along with Colin Campbell, the league's executive vice presidents for hockey operations.
"It is impossible to express the extent to which the National Hockey League family adored Jim Gregory and the loss we feel as a result of his passing," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Gregory worked for the NHL since April 1979 and under Bettman when the commissioner started in 1993. There's a famous story about how Gregory was hired at the league offices. When former NHL executive Brian O'Neill found out the Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard had fired his GM, O'Neill called Gregory pronto to offer a job with the NHL's Central Scouting division. Gregory was flattered but declined since he "had a job." Ballard had informed the league offices before speaking to Gregory.
It turned out to the league's gain. Gregory worked as director of NHL Central Scouting and also served as senior vice president of hockey operations and supervision. During his time in hockey operations, Gregory led the campaign for goal reviews, now standard with a Toronto-based video room that assures every score is a "good goal" before the referee drops the puck at center ice to resume play.
In 1998, Gregory was named chairman of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee, a position he held until passing away. While Gregory was on hiatus from the committee in 2007, he was elected to the Hall of Fame himself in the "builder" category.
Bettman, for one of many, was thrilled about the GM vote to honor Gregory.
"Jim Gregory Jim Gregory transformed the art of team-building," said Bettman Tuesday. "Through the many years he spent at the League, our general managers regularly sought his counsel. They universally revere his lifetime of service to the NHL."